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Vikings Armchair GM 2015: version 2.0

The Daily Norseman considers what moves the Vikings might make during the second wave of free agency and also outlines a complete off-season plan for the rest of the off-season.

I'm, too sexy for the draft...
I'm, too sexy for the draft...
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The first week of free agency is officially in the books.  Outside of trading away Matt Cassel, and trading for Mike Wallace, the Vikings have been relatively quiet.  They've mostly re-signed important depth players and to this point have only signed one outside free agent: quarterback Shaun Hill, who replaces Matt Cassel as the backup to Teddy Bridgewater.  So, what can we expect the Vikings to do over the next couple of weeks in free agency and what should they do in next month's draft?  That is what we will attempt to answer in the latest installment of Armchair GM.

In the first version of Armchair GM, which I wrote towards the end of the 2014 season, I based a plan around keeping Adrian Peterson and his contract.  This time around, I'm going to attempt to trade Adrian Peterson as the latest rumors seem to imply that not only is Peterson not happy (and potentially has asked to be traded), but that the team is also quietly shopping him around to other teams.  The first step is to evaluate the current status of the roster.  We'll start with the offense.

Quarterbacks: Teddy Bridgewater, Shaun Hill, Pat Devlin

With Bridgewater firmly in place as the starter, the Vikings we able to orchestrate an excellent trade of Matt Cassel and a 6th round pick that gave them a 5th and 7th round pick and freed up some additional cap space.  Pat Devlin would seem to fit the "undrafted, developmental" guy with upside role pretty well too.  I could see the Vikings taking a 7th round flier on a quarterback or looking at some undrafted free agent options to push Devlin for the #3 position, but this unit is in pretty good shape, and it feels great to finally be able to say that.

Running backs: Adrian Peterson, Jerick Mckinnon, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Dominique Williams, Henry Josey, Zach Line

Jerome Felton opted out of his contract and resigned with the Bills, leaving Zach Line as the only fullback on a team that barely utilized the position last season.  The team resigned Matt Asiata to an incentive-laden 1-year deal (presumably as emergency insurance) and will have Mckinnon returning from injury. There are also three inexperienced, but intriguing names on the list: Banyard, Williams and Josey.  All have flashed ability in their limited opportunities, but are probably not guys the team can count on as a starter going forward.  In this plan, I'll be trading Peterson away.  While most fans may scoff at that idea, keep in mind that the timeshare of Asiata/Mckinnon, behind one of the league's worst offensive lines last year, still managed to land in the top 10 in rushing yardage.  Neither Mckinnon or Asiata strike me as a full-time workhorse running back, but they both do great in a committee setting.  Still, the team would have a moderate need at running back with Peterson traded away.  This plan will look to the draft to add talent to the running back position.

Wide Receivers: Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson, Adam Thielen, Donte Foster, Cain Colter

The Vikings made a bold move this off-season by trading for Mike Wallace and then cutting Greg Jennings.  I'm sure Rick Spielman wished he could have done this much sooner, but with Norv Turner's Air Coryell offense, this is a move that had to be made.  The offense hinges on having a big-play, deep threat like Michael Irvin, Vincent Jackson or Josh Gordon.  The team (and fans) hoped that Cordarrelle Patterson could develop into that kind of player last year, but he did not thrive in that role and couldn't get the job done on the outside.  Hence, the team made a trade for Wallace.  While I will miss watching Jennings excellent technique, he is more suited for a short, timing-based offense rather than the deep ball Coryell offense.  His release, while resulting in a significant dead money number on the cap ($6 million), does open the door for Charles Johnson.  He looked good last year, and should thrive as the #2 guy opposite Mike Wallace.  Jarius Wright projects to fill the slot position with Patterson free to line up all over the formation.  I like this set of wide receivers, because it plays to everyone's strengths and frees up Patterson to play his more natural "Swiss-army knife" role.  Teams will have to account for him no matter where he lines up (backfield, outside, slot, etc) because the team will be able to manufacture touches for him without having to sacrifice the deep ball option with Wallace.  So, in this plan the Vikings will do very little else to address the receiver group.

Tight Ends: Kyle Rudolph, Chase Ford, Rhett Ellison, Brandon Bostick, Ryan Otten

If Rudolph can finally stay healthy for a full 16-game season, this unit looks great on paper.  Chase Ford has flashed great hands as a #2 pass-catching tight end, and Rhett Ellison has proven to be a capable Jim Kleinsasser clone.  With the added depth of Brandon Bostick, this unit will not need any other major additions.  Just don't put Bostick on the field for on-side kick scenarios.

Offensive Tackles: Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Mike Harris, Antonio Richardson, Austin Wentworth, Carter Bykowski

This will be a big year for Matt Kalil as he'll have to prove a lot of doubters wrong if he wants to earn a contract extension.  Mike Harris and Antonio Richardson are two talented backups, but neither is ready to unseat Kalil as a full-time starter.  I think the Vikings will need to come up with a backup plan in case Kalil flops for a 3rd year in a row.  So I think a mid-round tackle in the draft for added depth would be a good plan.

Offensive Guard: Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger, David Yankey, Jordan McCray

There is a pretty obvious hole at guard after the team finally cut Charlie Johnson.  They were rumored to have pursued Clint Boling in free agency, but after missing out they will have to figure something else out.  It's possible that Joe Berger or David Yankey could start at left guard, but with Yankey not getting even a single snap last year, and Berger functioning as the backup behind Charlie Johnson (who was cut) it seems unlikely that either would slot in as a starter.  And with the team pursuing Clint Boling, that should tell you all you need to know about their view of Berger or Yankey as the starter.  But for me, left guard is currently the biggest hole on the roster.

Center: John Sullivan, Zac Kerin, Joe Berger

John Sullivan is easily the best offensive lineman on the team, and with Kerin and Berger as backups, the Vikings are set at the center position.  At age 29, we shouldn't need to look at replacing Sullivan for at least a couple more years.

So overall on offense there is only one glaring hole: left guard.  After trading Adrian Peterson we'll want to add some more talent at running back to pair up with Mckinnon.  Some may want to upgrade the wide receiver group too, but I see that as a lower priority.  We shouldn't need to draft a wide receiver in the first two rounds, not unless a premier talent like Amari Cooper falls into our laps.

Defensive Ends: Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Scott Crichton, Justin Trattou, Leon Mackey

With the team letting Corety Wooton go in free agency, and Brian Robison having an uncharacteristically down year last year, defensive end is a position that may need some attention.  Crichton and Trattou barely saw the field last year and are likely not adequate fill-ins or long-term replacement options.  When you consider that the team heavily pursued Michael Johnson in free agency, and also showed interest in George Selvie, signs indicate that they are looking to add some defensive end talent.  So, this plan will also attempt to do the same thing.

Defensive Tackle: Linval Joseph, Shariff Floyd, Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen, Isame Faciane, Chigbo Anunoby

Linval Joseph was one of the big free agent tickets last year, and while he struggled a bit early on in the season, his performance improved quite a bit towards the end of the year.  Shariff Floyd looked great in his first year as a starter and Tom Johnson also looked good enough in rotation to earn a new deal this off-season.  The rest of the names on the list offer minimal upside, although Stephen has received some coach's praise.  I would be surprised to see the team spend a high draft pick or big free agency dollars on a defensive tackle outside of what they have already committed by resigning Tom Johnson.  This unit looks good.

Linebackers: Chad Greenway, Anthony Barr, Audie Cole, Brandon Watts, Michael Mauti, Justin Anderson, Josh Kaddu, Brian Peters

I remain mystified by what the Vikings plans are at the linebacker position.  They let last year's starting, two-down, middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley sign with the Cowboys and now have, arguably, two gaping holes at linebacker.  Chad Greenway and the team have both expressed a desire for him to be back and are apparently negotiating yet another contract restructure for him to play out the last year of his deal.  While I think Greenway's skills continue to decline, I also think the team will begrudgingly work out another restructured contract to bring him back.  Audie Cole has flashed good instincts in limited action at middle linebacker, but I think it would be a mistake to rely on him as the full-time starter.  Gerald Hodges on the other hand looked very good filling in for Chad Greenway while he was out with various injuries.  If Hodges is ever going to ascend into a starting role, this is the year to let him sink or swim.  And with the team also retaining Greenway for another year, they provide a veteran insurance plan in case Hodges isn't up to the task.  The team was rumored to be interested in middle linebacker Andrew Gachkar, but he signed with Dallas.  They will need to address middle linebacker at a minimum.

Cornerbacks: Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Robinson, Jabari Price, Marcus Sherels, Shaun Prater, Jalil Carter, DeMarcus Van Dyke

Xavier Rhodes grew into an elite cornerback right before our eyes last year finishing as one of the top graded cornerbacks in the league.  Unfortunately, Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson did not look great on the opposite side.  Munnerlyn exceled in the slot with his former team (Carolina), so a return to that position in 2015 seems to be in order.  Josh Robinson flashed some ability, but would be best utilized in a backup role.  In my opinion, this team needs another bona-fide starter opposite Rhodes and they could be in perfect position to draft one.  The team has not been linked to any free agent cornerbacks of any significance, so it remains to be seen if this is a position they are looking to upgrade.  But in this plan we will look for a significant upgrade.

Safety: Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo, Antone Exum, Ahmad Dixon

A lot has been made of the supposed benching of Robert Blanton at the end of last season.  I remain committed to the idea that Blanton had an underrated season last year, but the team evidently feels otherwise as they reportedly made a run after both Devon McCourty and Rahim Moore in free agency.  After also reportedly being in interested in Taylor Mays, the team seems to have identified safety as a major need.

Special Teams: Blair Walsh, Jeff Locke, Cullen Loeffler

Walsh is still an excellent kicker, but Jeff Locke had another poor year.  I was surprised to see the team resign Cullen Loeffler, but there have been some reports of the team looking at the long snapper position at various Pro Day visits.  I would not be surprised to see them bring in some undrafted free agents to training camp to push starters Locke and Loeffler.

So with that long-winded breakdown of the current state of the roster, I have identified the following needs of the team.  Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman mentioned they had eight needs they wanted to address this off-season, and if I were them, I'd group them as follows and in this order:

Tier 1 - Need Starter

1.       Left Guard

2.       Middle Linebacker

Tier 2 - Upgrade Starter

3.       Safety

4.       Defensive End

5.       Cornerback

6.       Running back

Tier 3 - Increased Depth

7.       Offensive Tackle

8.       Wide Receiver

Before we dig into those off-season needs, it's important to review where we stand with the salary cap.  According to "Over the Cap", the Vikings currently have about $12.6 Million in cap space.  The first move to make is to trade Adrian Peterson.  We're going to take that rumored Arizona Cardinals deal that gives us a 2nd round pick for Peterson and our 7th rounder (from Miami).  That move frees up almost $13 million in cap space bringing our available total back up to $25.1 Million.

Next, we'll start the off-season plan by addressing the Vikings Tier 1 needs.  By letting Jasper Brinkley leave and cutting Charlie Johnson, left guard and middle linebacker are the two most pressing needs on the roster.  The Vikings have already missed out in their pursuit of Clint Boling, and the two best free agent guards, Mike Iupati and Orlando Franklin have both already been signed as well.  There's not much left on the free agent market for a plug-and-play starter at the left guard spot, but there are still older veterans available that could be short-term stop gaps, like:

OG Justin Blalock, age 31 (former team: Falcons)

Blalock is an average guard, graded +3.1 overall by Pro Football Focus and also ranked 33rd out of 59 guards in their pass blocking efficiency metric.  He would be an upgrade over Charlie Johnson, although his age makes him a short-term solution.  Blalock was released by the Falcons last month, presumably because he wasn't a good fit for their new zone-blocking scheme, and would also have counted over $7 million against the cap.  The Vikings still utilize primarily a man-blocking scheme for running plays, but their pass blocking has taken on much more importance in Norv Turner's offense.  Blalock grades out with a +2.1 in pass blocking from Pro Football Focus, ranked 25th out of 78 guards in that skill.  It remains to be seen what kind of contract he might be looking for, but the Vikings should be able to sign him for less money than what Franklin, Iupati and Boling commanded as we enter the 2nd wave of free agency.

If Blalock doesn't work out, the Vikings could also consider former Detroit guard Rob Sims, also age 31.  While he didn't grade nearly as highly as Justin Blalock, he would still be an upgrade over Charlie Johnson.  After that there are some inexperienced guys with potential like Jah Reid, Mike Pollack and Nate Garner that they could take a flier on as well.

At the linebacker position, there are still some possibilities.  I'm not sure if the team is looking for another two-down middle linebacker, like what they had with Jasper Brinkley last year, or if they are looking for a true, "stay-on-the-field", three-down middle linebacker.  Depending on who starts at the other outside linebacker spot, opposite Anthony Barr, the Vikings may not even need a true three-down backer.   But anyway, here are a couple of options they could still pursue:

MLB Rolando McClain, age 25 (former team: Cowboys)

He was Pro Football Focus's 8th highest graded inside linebacker last year, and had their top rated run stop percentage and excelled as a pass rusher.  At the line of scrimmage there aren't too many better linebackers than McClain, but in the open field he's just average.  He ranked in the middle of the pack in both tackling efficiency and coverage as measured by coverage snaps per reception allowed.  He was a top draft prospect back in 2010, and his talent is not really in question.  However, McClain does come with a bit of baggage, as he was has bounced around three different teams already and found to have violated the substance abuse policy just last month for the third time.  That means if he were to fail a fourth test in the future, then he would get a 4-game suspension.  That's a fair bit of risk for a player who also retired once already, and could be too much for the Vikings to take on.  Still, he could be signed to a cheap, 1-year prove-it deal where we see if Zimmer can work his magic on him.  The Cowboys have apparently passed on him for a reason and I find it ironic that the Cowboys signed both Jasper Brinkley (former Viking) and Andrew Gachkar (player the Vikings were interested in).  The two teams must be looking for similarly skilled players.

MLB Brandon Spikes, age 27 (former team: Bills)

Spikes was also a highly graded linebacker, coming in as the 13th best inside linebacker overall by Pro Football Focus.  Spikes ranked 20th out of 59 inside linebacker in run stop %, but only 56th out of 70 in tackling efficiency.  He really excelled in pass coverage however, ranked 3rd overall in receptions allowed by coverage snap.  He possesses a different skillset than McClain, but could potentially be more of a three-down linebacker option with his coverage abilities, whereas McClain is likely more of a two-down run stuffer.

If the Vikings don't want to pursue one of the two most talented middle linebackers still available in free agency, they could look to a few lesser options like Nate Irving, or Jamari Lattimore.  Unfortunately, there aren't any elite, blue-chip prospects at inside linebacker available in this year's draft, so the team may have to pursue one of these two guys if they want an immediate, impact player.

So, in this off-season plan we'll do the following to address those Tier 1 needs:

1.       Sign OG Justin Blalock to a 2-year deal that counts for $4 million against the cap in 2015.

2.       Sign Rolando McClain to a 1-year $2 Million "prove it" deal.  If he can stay out of trouble and excel on the field, there could be a long-term contract waiting for him at the other side.

Both of these moves lower the Vikings cap space to $19.1 Million.  Moving on to the Tier 2 section, we're looking for players to upgrade over our current starters.  At the safety position, the team is clearly looking for a safety with better coverage chops than Robert Blanton.  Blanton is more of a strong safety that is good in run defense, especially near the line of scrimmage.  Honestly, he would probably be a better backup to Harrison Smith than a starter alongside him.  The elite free agents are no longer available, but that doesn't mean there aren't some interesting options still out there.  Here are a few names the Vikings could consider:

FS Jeromy Miles, age 27 (former team: Ravens)

Miles was the 14th ranked safety in coverage by PFF (out of 87 safeties) and was graded as the 23rd best safety overall.  He was a special teams standout and backup safety last season for the Ravens that was forced into action when Darian Stewart missed time with an injury.  But he excelled in the few starts he got, especially in coverage.  This could be an under-the-radar type signing for the Vikings.

FS Louis Delmas, age 27 (former team: Dolphins)

Vikings fans should know Delmas name as he was a former member of the Detroit Lions before he signed with the Dolphins last year on a one-year deal.   He was a middle of the road safety last year, not excelling in any particular category, but also not ranking low in anything either.  He would be the quintessential "average" NFL starter.

If the Vikings didn't want to pursue either of those two guys they could take a flier on older veterans like Dwight Lowery or Quintin Demps, or injured guys with potential like Stevie Brown.

Another position the Vikings have shown some interest in early in free agency is defensive end.  With Brian Robison having a down year last year, and the team parting ways with Corey Wooton, there is, at a minimum, an open backup spot on the roster with the potential for starters snaps on the left side.  The Vikings brought in free agent Michael Johnson and reportedly offered him more money than the Bengals, but we missed out.  They also showed interest in George Selvie.  There aren't many 4-3 defensive end free agent options available, but here are two possibilities if they don't want to close a deal with Selvie:

DE George Johnson, age 27 (former team: Lions)

The name should sound familiar, as George Johnson spent 2 seasons with the Vikings.  He always flashed potential and last year he looked very good in a backup, rotational role with the Lions excellent defensive line.  He was ranked 28th out of 98 4-3 defensive ends with a +2.1 overall grade.  He excelled as a pass rusher, graded as the 16th best in the NFL last year notching 7 sacks.  But he's not a complete player, and struggled with run defense.  Still, his familiarity with Vikings players could make him an interesting free agent target.

DE C.J. Wilson, age 27 (former team: Raiders)

C.J. Wilson was a backup, rotational player behind Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, and was originally drafted by the Packers.  He graded out as an average player last year, ranked 35th overall out of 98 4-3 defensive ends.  He excelled in run defense, something that Zimmer wants out of his defensive ends.  So, he could be a good fit as a backup, rotational player for the Vikings.

If the Vikings didn't like either of those two options they could pursue older veteran free agent options like Anthony Spencer or Mathias Kiwanuka.  But with veteran starter Brian Robison already in the mix, that seems unlikely.

While there are two other positions (cornerback and running back) in Tier 2, we will not pursue free agent options for those positions in this plan.  The last of our free agent signings will be as follows:

3.       Sign FS Jeromy Miles to a 2-year deal that will count for $1.5 million against the cap in 2015

4.       Sign DE George Johnson to a 2-year deal that will count for $2 million against the cap in 2015

Those next two moves leave the Vikings with $15.6 million in cap space.  That is plenty of money left over for rookies, and enough to sign Harrison Smith to a contract extension mid-season next year with a healthy chunk to carry over to next season.  So, the remaining needs will be addressed in the draft.  Here is a quick and dirty mock draft without any further trades, and using CBS as a big board:

Round 1, Pick 11: CB Trae Waynes, Michigan State
Round 2, Pick 13 (45 overall): DE Danielle Hunter, LSU
Round 2, Pick 23 (55 overall): FS Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
Round 3, Pick 12 (76 overall): RB Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
Round 4, Pick 11 (107 overall): WR Dezmin Lewis, Central Arkansas
Round 5, Pick 1 (from BUF, through TB, 129 overall): OT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
Round 7, Pick 11 (204 overall): QB Brandon Bridge, South Alabama

So, after all those moves are made, and considering training camp battles, here is what the finished depth chart would look like:

2015 Vikings Depth Chart Projection - Offense


Teddy Bridgewater

Shaun Hill

Brandon Bridge


Jerick Mckinnon

Jeremy Langford

Matt Asiata


Zach Line


Mike Wallace

Charles Johnson

Jarius Wright

Cordarrelle Patterson

Dezmin Lewis


Kyle Rudolph

Rhett Ellison

Chase Ford


Phil Loadholt

Mike Harris


Brandon Fusco


John Sullivan

Joe Berger


Justin Blalock

David Yankey


Matt Kalil

Antonio Richardson

Tyrus Thompson

2015 Vikings Depth Chart Projection - Defense/Special Teams


Brian Robison

Scott Crichton


Shariff Floyd

Tom Johnson


Linval Joseph

Shamar Stephen


Everson Griffen

Danielle Hunter


Anthony Barr

Brandon Watts


Rolando McClain

Audie Cole

Michael Mauti


Chad Greenway

Gerald Hodges


Xavier Rhodes

Josh Robinson


Trae Waynes

Captain Munnerlyn

Marcus Sherels


Harrison Smith

Robert Blanton

Andrew Sendejo


Cody Prewit

Antone Exum


Blair Walsh


Jeff Locke


Cullen Loeffler